Traumatic events not only affect the traumatized individuals, but also those caring about them. Helping someone through a trauma can give rise to feelings of stress, guilt and distress. This is especially true in situations where individuals cannot be rescued or saved from harm.
Nurses may disengage and turn off their feelings or experience helplessness and anger. Several factors can trigger compassion fatigue, such as working in a hospice or with chronically ill children. Personal aspects such as overinvolvement, unrealistic self-expectations, personal commitments and personal crises can also be linked to compassion fatigue.
Problems with the system (i.e. heavy patient assignments and overtime), feeling that one’s actions don’t make a difference, identifying with the patient and overlooking serious symptoms can be experienced as stressful care situations.
Experiences of frustration, anger and helplessness are not unique for nurses. Previous research shows that psychiatrists have high rates of severe depression, suicide and compassion fatigue.
Different coping strategies were seen in nurses, such as changes in personal engagement in the patient or situation, asking collegues for help and extra curricular activities.
This shows that not only patients and their relatives experience stress and frustration in care situations, but also health professionals. It can be good to remember that we are all human and that most people like to feel acknowledged, needed and appreciated.
Source: Edmunds, M.W. Caring Too Much: Compassion fatigue in Nursing. Appl Nurs Res. 2010; 23:191-197.